Persona

Finally, Budji holds first exhibit:
‘Art is my sense of quiet’

He pours, drips, smears acrylic on canvas—an ‘accidental spontaneity’ captured in permanence, after two decades of exploring his visual art

From Budji's early figurative phase is 'Rush' (acrylic), swift calligraphic strokes denoting forward motion

‘Sabongero’ (acrylic, 2021) is the final result on the canvas Budji has painted over through the years until he made the swift defined strokes of the cockfighters.

“Art is my sense of quiet.”

Budji Layug talks about what painting does to him, yet again, like we’ve discussed it several times. But we’ve also seen you “destroy” your work, we tell him.

I remember this must have been in the early 2000s; we were in his living room where I spotted his painting of what seemed like a waterfall—a cascade of energetic strokes of angry vermillion on the canvas. That image didn’t leave my memory—I loved it. But on our next visit to his home, it was gone; Budji told us he had painted over it to produce yet another composition—he had “destroyed” it.

Budji Layug holds his first art exhibit—a collection of figurative and abstract pieces done over the years— this entire September at Focus Global building in BGC: ‘Painting is my self-discovery’ (Photo by Marc Henrich Go)

As early as then we realized that to this artist, who has become known for his designs of furniture and home, a painting is to be in the moment, a fleeting yet indelible moment. And Budji is never one to stay put in the moment. All these decades I have known him, I have yet to see him dwell on the past, be that happy or sad, be that success or failure. I’ve chronicled his milestone innovations in Philippine furniture design (e.g. bamboo furniture sold at Bloomingdale’s in the late ’70s), home design (the Filipino Modern that set a blueprint from the ’90s onwards), global home furnishings design (the iconic Movement 8 that made an impact in international expositions, from New York to Milan), architecture and space planning for Budji+Royal Architecture + Design—yet he never tarried in these phases of his professional life. He’s always moving on to the next passion.

Interestingly, however, it is in painting that he seems to have lingered since the ’90s. He has been painting since the ‘90s yet he never had an exhibit, most likely because he never built a collection since he tends to change or “destroy” an artwork.

His paintings could be seen in some homes that Budji+Royal has done, but never in an exhibit. In the early 2000s, I was surprised how at one dinner, a foreigner businessman visiting from Hong Kong told me that he loved his latest acquisition, a painting by a Filipino artist named Budji, and would I know him. The “expat” was drawn to Budji’s figure in motion, his early phase that he’s come to refer to as figurative.

For the first time, Budji is holding a September-long exhibit of 32 paintings at the Focus Global building at BGC, Taguig. Apparently the lockdown gave him the luxury of time and focus—enough to commit himself to art on canvas. Some of the pieces perhaps are “survivors,” meaning Budji has committed to their permanence on canvas. By the way, it is not surprising that one of those canvases, for example, underwent 10 layers of paint—Budji would paint over one, then paint again until he got what he desired. The movers couldn’t believe the weight they were carrying up the building.

Budji decided to finally mount an exhibit after he toured the Focus Global building and realized its interior setting could be the best environment for his works. His paintings are set up like they would be in collectors’ homes—in the living room, dining room, den, foyer—amid modern furniture with clean, defined lines.

They evoke images or feelings of nature, movement, human figures, rendered permanent on canvas by pouring or splashing acrylic

From the figurative ’90s, Budji’s art has evolved into the abstract expressionist—the works on exhibit bear that style. They evoke images or feelings of nature, movement, human figures, rendered permanent on canvas by pouring or splashing acrylic. Budji didn’t use brush as main tool; in some, he used a palette to achieve the effect he desired. He would pour, splash, or smear acrylic on medium-sized or large canvases, and sometimes would mix acrylic with oil. His Spring (2021, acrylic on canvas) combines dripping, pouring, splattering, smearing of paint to create rich image and texture on the canvas.

Spring (acrylic, 2021): Dense texture on canvas

Harvest (acrylic, 2016): Inspired by Provence

Bouquet (acrylic, 2021): Done with a palette

Dusk (acrylic, 2021): Seascape created after many layers of paint

Budji Layug explains these works (click to play the audio):

“It is accidental spontaneity,” Budji, known to be inarticulate, tries to put in words what he feels when he paints. “It is an emotion, a deliberate expression that I turn into abstraction.”

He explains his seemingly unending work on each canvas, why he “destroys” and doesn’t allow the act of creation to end—“I have a feeling of want”—and defines where he is now, after two decades of painting: “I discover what’s new and go to another level. Painting, to me, is self-discovery, what I like to discover within me. I repeat or I destroy because I get frustrated. Painting is my attempt to put reality on canvas.”

Does he reach the point of satisfaction where his act of painting is concerned?

“I stop when I feel it’s coming from my inner soul. It’s a feeling that I can’t do anything else, so I stop,” he says, and I’m not surprised hearing that because I’ve been quite used to Budji’s intensity and passion. It’s just that now perhaps, the passing of years has prodded him to be candid and up front about what he feels and thinks.

“For me to be satisfied? It could be a matter of composition, balance, color, imagination, emotion. A work shouldn’t be studied or overworked. I like the contrast between light and darkness. But it shouldn’t disturb my feeling, even if I know that in this world nothing is perfect.”

In his exhibit, Budji shows some works in the figurative style he’s been doing the past decades—human figures in flowing motion, images that are merely suggestive but not defined.

The first painting the guests see on the ground floor is Rush (acrylic), a large human figure as if poised to sprint—swift calligraphic strokes of forward motion. These figures in motion are replicated in his Dance series. “If there’s no movement, it’s not me,” he says.

Dance: Embrace (acrylic, 2016): Completed after three-year process

Dance: Five Figures (acrylic, 2014)

Budji Layug explains these works (click to play the audio):

The viewer feels this movement not only in the figurative humans, but also even in the Landscape series. Harvest (2016), inspired by his stay in Provençe, shows human figures hunched over waves of grass blowing in the wind. He used a palette, not a brush, in this acrylic on canvas.

Cascade (acrylic, 2021) evokes a waterfall of thick vigorous strokes. “This was when I wanted to get away from the figures,” Budji recalls, yet it also denotes movement.

A part of the exhibit captures Budji’s recent progress to circular abstraction. Tsunami (acrylic, 2021) marks the start of this phase in Budji’s art evolution. Inspired by the Japanese wave, it is paint poured in swirling motion in the color of foam.

Tsunami (acrylic, 2021): Paint poured in circular motion in the form of a foam

Spiral in blue (acrylic, 2021)

Cascade in blue (acrylic, 2021)

Budji Layug explains these works (click to play the audio):

 Budji’s works are not pegged to a cultural context. Among his works, his only nod to what is local or Filipino are the cockfighters—“I thought to myself, if I wanted something with local undertone, it is these cockfighters.” Sabongero (acrylic, 2021) originated as a Dance piece on which he did quick graceful strokes of cockfighters until the figurative dancers were reduced to faint shadows in the background. Thus what started as a figurative work 10 years ago is now Sabongero.

The lockdown not only gave Budji the time to paint, it also brought him closer to the foreign masters, from Cezanne to Pollock. He was consumed trying to know more about their lives and works. His global sensibility—already evident in his furniture and space designs through the decades—became even more honed and pronounced.

‘I told myself it’s time to do something different…I must go and bring my art in sync with what is happening out there in the world—global, not Asian or local’

“The lockdown gave me time to reflect on the works I’ve been doing,” he says. “I told myself it’s time to do something different. I watched the masters on YouTube, their moments, their eras, and I realized that I must go and bring my art in sync with what is happening out there in the world, global, not Asian or local.”

In fact, I feel like telling him that that’s what he’s been doing the past decades—he has never been bound to his locality, physical or otherwise. (He spent his teens and young adulthood in Europe and in the US. Boldly and recklessly, he entered London on a student visa with only 10 pounds in his pocket—the freedom of youth to be fearless.)

Dance solo

Budji Layug explains these works (click to play the audio):

Today in this exhibit, he has reduced and refined his thoughts and physical reality into lines and shapes—fluid geometry—that evoke nature, landscape, blooms, or an emotion and state of mind. He uses color to create his own inner atmosphere—happy or dark, day or night.

“There are the fundamentals and techniques you start with,” he says, “then you begin to move farther away from physical reality. How you can capture nothingness.”

Budji has a day job, so to speak—the homes and signature infrastructure projects of Budji+Royal Architecture + Design (e.g. New Clark City Athletics Stadium, Clark International Airport Terminal 2), the latest of which is the Philippine Pavilion in the World Expo in Dubai. He takes a step away from this fast lane to paint. He considers painting as the next phase of his life.

‘Art is my sense of quiet. It is what is not literal. My stillness’

“I reflect on the next phase of my life. My work entails dealing with people for projects,” he says. “But in art, I deal only with myself. I’m not doing it for anybody else.”

He adds, “It must be of the moment. Art is my sense of quiet. It is what is not literal. My stillness.”

How does he transition from designing a home to painting?

“When I design a home, I try to take out the elements that bother the eye,” he says. “Some believe my design is empty. But my focus is space, like for instance, how to bring nature into the space of daily life.”

Then he repeats yet again a point he’s been making in the chats we’ve had in this lockdown. “When I’m done with the space, it must have soul, not just decoration. Decorating could be clutter. It’s art that brings soul into the home. It’s what makes a home come alive.”

When he talks that way, Budji isn’t paying lip service to space and design. He really lives it in his daily life—design comes to him like a natural reflex, sometimes often enough to disrupt the ordinariness in the lives of people around him. I’ve seen him rearrange furniture just to please his eye—of our hotel room at that, and he’s done it not once or twice, but usually when we travel. He looks for the soul in the space.

While most of us merely seek design, Budji has turned into a soul-seeker, and art becomes the latest destination in his pursuit.

Read more:

Budji Layug reveals design of his own home

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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